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Thursday 8 December 2016

Sexton offers hope against Toulon

Horgan believes risk taking out-half can propel Blues

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton during squad training
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton during squad training
Shane Horgan believes Jonathan Sexton gives Leo Cullen options

Shane Horgan believes if Toulon are at their best Leinster will be out of The Champions Cup.

"I think that's the case," he said.

"If Toulon play as well as they can, they have more talent than the Leinster team, at the moment."

There is a caveat.

The rugby world is a strange place where talent is never enough. It has to come with commitment, discipline and accuracy - in other words, delivery.

Leinster have to start at looking within.

They haven't been able to show their true worth this season.

Not in The Champions Cup. Not even in the PRO12.

There is no coincidence that Toulon's best 80-minute output through their three European Cups came in the 2014 quarter-final against Leinster.

That was the unofficial transition from one dynasty to another, the former kingpins having the baton ripped away by the current conquerors.

"Two years ago, against Leinster in the quarter-final is probably the best I've seen Toulon play," recalled Horgan.

"They don't always hit their straps. They've had huge success, but rarely playing at their full capacity.

"We've seen them a couple of times being exceptional."

Once Toulon had overcome a fading Leinster, they were overwhelming favourites for last year's semi-final.

There is a fair argument to be made that the French club was not operating at maximum speed on that day.

"If you reflect on last year's game, Toulon didn't play very well," he said.

Where Matt O'Connor had Jimmy Gopperth to dictate his game plan, Leo Cullen has Jonathan Sexton.

The difference is difficult to calculate.

The Ireland out-half has been finding his feet in the aftermath of the biggest disappointment of his career at the World Cup.

There were much better signs of 'the old Sexto' in the variation he brought for 67 minutes against Ulster.

"I do think Johnny will certainly be alert to any opportunity," said Horgan.

"He is a risk taker and if something is on, he's always prepared to make the right decision.

"That doesn't matter if he's in his own 22. He generally plays the type of rugby where he's challenging what's in front of him."

So Leinster have a master tactician in the primary playmaking role.How best can they topple Toulon?

"I think they would be right to keep the ball in hand.

"Certainly, you have to starve them of possession because, generally, Toulon are use to dominating possession in the French League and in Europe.

"It is very difficult to do that, especially when you're travelling to Toulon."

The backing of the most vocal support in all of France and the power Toulon bring to the battle means domination is almost out of the question.

It would be closer to reality to aim for parity and take your chances from there.

"It is a key element that Leinster need to address. They certainly need to be breaking 50-50," said Horgan.

"That immediately limits the amount of time Toulon have with ball in hand to implement their game plan.

"Also, it gives Leinster the opportunity to affect the game in the manner they want to."

In this case, the same old rules apply.

The Leinster front five have to go toe-to-toe in the scrum, at the lineout in the maul.

Equipped

Here, coach Cullen is well equipped with an international core that must be itching to make up for what happened against Bath.

The establishment of a rock solid set-piece would enable Leinster to activate the broader brush strokes of their game plan.

Here is where Mike Ross, Richardt Strauss, Jack McGrath, Cian Healy, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy and Hayden Triggs must to the fore.

The next move may be to take the location of the breakdown away from Steffon Armitage.

"There have been some indications that Leinster are looking to move the ball outside of the ten to support carriers.

"I think that would be a smart move against Toulon."

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